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The French Exception: Podcast Measurement

· By · Editors: Bryan Barletta, Evo Terra · 9.7 minutes to read

Sarah Toporoff reached out to me on the first day that Sounds Profitable went live. Sarah has such a unique perspective in podcasting and radio, coming from the US but having spent the last 10 years in France. It was a no brainer to pass Sarah the mic and let her tell you all about the state of podcast measurement in France. I hope ya’ll learn as much from this piece as I did. — Bryan

The French podcast market is maturing and audiences are growing, but IAB-certified measurement isn’t enough for French podcasters or advertisers. The ACPM is an organisation that audits media circulation and they’ve stepped up to measure and rank French podcast listenership. Why are platforms like Acast integrating this country-specific standard and how can it build a sustainable ad market for podcasters?

Intro

Folks in podland (myself included) really like to hold up the United States as a model for market maturity and ultimate predictor of what’s next for podcasting markets around the world. This comparison is helpful but incomplete.

In France, it would be incorrect to assume that podcasters and advertisers mirror their stateside counterparts. Audience measurement must be French-specific, and the New York-based IAB standard doesn’t cut it. The Alliance pour les Chiffres de la Presse et des Médias (ACPM) is answering the call for the measurement standard à la française.

Measurement + Ranking: A Hybrid Approach

French podcasting is going through a period of rapid growth. Monthly listenership has increased by 49% from 2019 with 14% (or 5.3 million) French people listening to podcasts weekly.

But, the ad money hasn’t followed yet. Estimates of the French podcast ad market currently sit around €1.1 million (or US $1.3 million). In comparison, US podcasting ad revenues hit $708 million in 2019 and are expected to cross the billion-dollar mark this year.

In order to grow profits French podcasters need to attract advertisers, and they need audience measurements from a trusted source to be able to do so. IAB lacks name recognition in France, so a certification from the IAB means little to advertisers.

Enter ACPM, which launched their podcast audience certification in July 2020, proudly declaring on their website “Pour la première fois depuis leur existence, les Podcasts ont une certification!” (“For the first time in since they were invented, podcasts have a certification!”) Nevermind the IAB published their first standard in 2016, but that’s exactly the point. As with World Wide Web precursor the Minitel, France is going to do its own thing regarding podcast certification.

ACPM is a non-profit founded in 1922 to audit newspaper circulation. It is one of 30 national “audit bureaux of certification”. Equivalents abroad include the ABC in the UK or the AAM in the US — neither of which certify podcasts. As a third party, the ACPM’s mission is to provide industry-standard measures to certify the audiences of any media that seeks to attract advertisers including websites, applications, digital radio, and recently, podcasts.

Of the 30 national audit bureaus, only the French and Swedish entities are currently certifying podcast audiences.

ACPM uses a server-side measurement technology to certify podcast hosting platforms, similar to IAB. But they don’t stop there. They publish a monthly ranking of member podcasts. To put the ACPM within a US context, they’re positioning themselves as a hybrid of IAB plus a ranking system such as Triton Digital’s Podcast Reports, or the pixel based solutions from Chartable and Podtrac.

Why measurement certification and a ranker? What is ACPM providing that IAB isn’t? According to Deputy General Director Jean-Paul Dietsch, the IAB provides only a standard, while ACPM provides a standard plus the validation of measurements using that standard. “I’ve seen things like five times more downloads with IAB stats compared to ACPM for the same show,” he said in a phone interview.

As a French podcaster, if you want ACPM-certified stats, you must opt into the ranker. Jean-Paul explained the dual role of measuring and ranking as key to transparency in the French ad market — one that ad buyers already know and trust.

Triton’s focus on their tracker also emphasizes ACPM’s push that certification, IAB or ACPM, isn’t enough for ad buyers, US or worldwide. One publisher might show a buyer their best audience over two weeks, US only. Another might show the last 30 days, worldwide. Both could be IAB or ACPM certified, so how does the buyer reconcile this data? A comprehensive ranker like ACPM or Triton allows everyone access to the same data.

Acast France is Acting Local

The companies buying into ACPM are the ones legitimising it. On the hosting side, Acast France has gone all in on ACPM. In the year and a half since opening their French office, Acast-hosted shows claim half of all listens to French-made podcasts. And as for the small but growing French-specific podcast ad market, Acast shows are punching above their weight drawing some 70% of national podcast ad revenue.

Director of Content for Acast France, Cedric Begoc, highlighted their commitment to structuring the French market. Acast France convinced the global team to greenlight the ACPM integration, because they bet it will become a reference point for professional podcasting in France. “We’re international, but we’re not going to come in with IAB everywhere, demanding and imposing IAB. If ACPM is doing a ranking, we need to be a part of it, because it will structure this market. There are other international companies that will follow, perhaps more slowly, but they will follow,” Cedric said in a panel discussion last month.

Acast has taken a similar country-specific approach in their native Sweden with Podd Index and with Podtoppen in Norway. Similar to ACPM, both Podd Index and Podtoppen are measurements and rankers, launched by industry working groups which include the audit bureau (ACPM-equivalent) Kantar Sifo in Sweden.

When launching in a new market, international companies can either impose their tech or find the important national players to build the market with. Acast’s choice to partner with an organisation like ACPM is a smart approach to build trust when coming in as an outsider. But when should platforms tailor the tech they already leverage in other countries?

Cedric explained in an email that Acast will adapt to each national context, whether that calls for IAB or a country-specific solution: “Most mature markets have adopted the IAB as their measurement norm,” adding that Acast “will be working with the [measurements] that have strong quality standards, aligned with those of the IAB. Those rankers need to have meaning and impact to help the podcast scene to develop in their markets. It takes a lot of time to integrate.”

Acast’s approach of using IAB where it works and a localised solution where it doesn’t has the company well-positioned for scalable growth.

A “Stamp of Approval” for Podcasters

In France, Acast certified their hosting technology and is encouraging their podcasters to get on ACPM’s ranker, leading the drive for adoption of the measurement among publishers. For podcast publishers, ACPM is important because it serves as a tool for attracting and building trust with advertisers. General Director at podcast studio Louie Media, Katia Sanerot, sees their ACPM-certified audience as a “stamp of approval.”

But why opt in for ACPM membership if your publishing platform is already certified? In an interview with radio trade publication La Lettre Pro, President and Co-Founder of Binge Audio Joël Ronez said, “We already have trustworthy stats, we chose Acast because they respect IAB 2.0 standards. But to grow our activity in a sustainable way, a third-party certification is essential.”

There is also a point of pride for podcasters that have become early ACPM adopters. They’re contributing to structuring a professional ecosystem that is fighting to be officially recognised within the French cultural sector.

Podcasters using Acast (or another certified platform) need only to fill out a two-page form and pay the yearly membership fee in order to be measured and ranked.

— from the ACPM website

Membership fees start from €750 (US $890) per year for under 100K downloads per month. About half of the 18 member publishers as of 15 October fall into this first bracket.

Hosting platforms that are already or in the process of becoming ACPM-certified.

ACPM’s system is not without its flaws. Shows are ranked by total number of downloads in France, which doesn’t paint the whole picture. The top spot in September was Culture Générale with more than 1.4 million downloads for 1200 episodes, each around a minute long. But if ranked by number of downloads per episode, a much different picture emerges. Injustices, a deeply-reported and highly-produced show from Louie Media, has nearly two and a half times as many downloads per episode than the number two slot, if ranked by this data point.

Although ACPM’s measurement and ranking is imperfect, industry actors including Katia and her team at Louie are optimistic that as more platforms and publishers get on board, the better the data will become. Katia said during a panel discussion that their advertisers understand their listeners’ loyalty and engagement and know how to put stats in perspective.

Primed for Growth?

In 2020, French brands do not yet perceive podcast advertising as “core business”. Podcast advertising only exists on the fringes of French marketing campaigns in experimental form — if at all. Despite its comparative “maturity”, the US market faces this same challenge. With ACPM will more brands start taking an interest in podcast ad spots? Jean-Paul said that even for international brands, French agency ad buyers need a measurement that they’re familiar with to invest in the space, although he wouldn’t cite a specific brand or agency.

But (plot twist!) ACPM isn’t the only French podcast audience measurement. Médiamétrie is a company that measures broadcast audiences in France. French podcast listening has been historically dominated by replay radio. Although radio brands have begun publishing original podcast-first shows, they continue to use Médiamétrie to measure them. (Interestingly, Acast is also discussing an integration with Médiamétrie.)

In the US, it’s normal to see radio replay podcasts and originals from radio groups like NPR ranked alongside podcast-only shows from powerhouses like Stitcher or Wondery. Today in France, it’s difficult to imagine a system that includes both podcasts produced by radio stations and podcasts produced by other publishers.

With ACPM for podcasters and Médiamétrie for radios, France essentially has two separate markets. For the moment, this apples-to-oranges situation doesn’t present much of an issue. It may become a problem if and when radio companies get serious about monetising their podcasts. Advertisers won’t have a clear picture of the market as a whole.

Takeaway

When I arrived in Paris in 2010, the first thing my study abroad advisor said was, “If you want France to be like the US, you should’ve studied ‘abroad’ in Tampa.” Wise words to this day.

Podcasting everywhere needs an influx of advertisers to build sustainable growth, but not all those advertisers know or care about IAB certification.

The example of what ACPM and their partners are building for French podcasting illustrates the need to treat markets individually, not as fledgling versions of the US.

Each national ecosystem has its nuances which outsiders need to take the time to grasp if they want to move into the market. Will we start to see more platforms and podcasters rally around country-specific standards like we’ve seen in France, Sweden, and Norway? Or will ACPM go the way of the Minitel to be replaced by an international standard?

À suivre (to be continued).

(Quotes in this article were translated from the original French by Sarah)

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Sarah Toporoff navigates the shifting relationship between media and technology. In her role at NETIA, she works with creators, end users, and developers on improving products and workflows to ensure a bright and sustainable future for audio. Sarah previously spearheaded Editors Lab at Global Editors Network, a worldwide series of journalism hackathons, hosted by leading news organisations. She is passionate about trivia, podcasts, and trivia podcasts. @SJToporoff

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